Jul 182014

Note: I recently attended my 45th high school reunion. It was a wonderful experience to be welcomed by so many with whom I shared four very important years of my life. Classmates I was certain had forgotten me, came over with smiles and handshakes as if we had never been apart. On my return home, I recalled a short piece I wrote after my 30th reunion, the last one I attended prior to the 45th. Whenever I am certain I know someone, I need to remember to ask who they really are. Joe…here’s to you my friend. It was great to see you again.

“I felt alone—on the outside looking in,” Joe said as we stood at the bar.

No, that’s simply not possible. I was at my 30th high school reunion talking to the former captain of the football team…the ultimate insider. He was the guy those of us ‘truly’ on the outside often wished we could trade places with. He was the one raising a ruckus in the library, getting all the laughs. He had all the ‘right’ friends.

“Roger,” he continued, “I was the only one from my grade school to transfer to Catholic Central. All the rest of you arrived with friends. Do you know how alone I felt?”

There I was, at the Knights of Columbus Hall in a small town in Michigan and my world was being rearranged. Thirty-year-old thought patterns that affected who I was to become were being torn apart.

Why, I wonder, was it necessary for me to rewrite his life? Did I create him in a way that would reinforce the image I had of myself? Why was I so intimidated by who I made him to be that I was never able to inquire as to who he was? I would never have attempted such an inquiry, because the person I made him to be, would have laughed at my suggestion that he was lonely. I was certain he would have crushed me with a simple gesture that would have reinforced my self-image. I was so certain of who he was that there was no reason to even test the theory.

So now I wonder, what in my life today is real? Whose life am I rewriting as a predictable cliché, so that the quirks I implant into their life help me justify my own foibles? Who am I shoving into personality cubbyholes simply to explain who I am…or justify who I believe I am not?

Perhaps my challenge is not to be more authentic, but to put my insecurities aside long enough to allow you to be.

This was never on any of my high school exams. Perhaps it should have been.

Feb 132010
Once again, my ego is doing battle with the world and the skirmishes leave me confused and sad. I am, unfortunately, not yet enlightened, so my ego still cries out to discover its place…its value. As I move through life, my ego remains fascinated by the way others witness me in the world. As it sees me reflected in others, it often seems as if the mirror is cracked and the reflection distorted and incomplete.
A Chamber member caught me one morning not long ago and said, “You’re too deep…too philosophical. Just tell people what to do!” I stood in the door of his shop with emotions dueling for control of the future into which I was about to wander. I don’t take criticism well. From somewhere in my past, even helpful suggestions feel like a critique of who I am. A little voice shows up that seems to scream, “I told you you were doing your life incorrectly!”
Am I doing my life incorrectly? There is an inner voice that wonders if it is possible to do life wrong. All we can do is be in the world…and notice. Even if what I do hurts another, life offers ways to turn the wound into a moment of reconciliation, redemption and healing.
As I reflected on the suggestion I am too philosophical, I wondered if the things I say…the things I commit to writing…are too abstract for others to turn into action. Is it possible I am in the world invisible to many because what I have to say has no impact? Do the ideological boulders I heave into the pond slip through the surface without so much as a ripple?
How is it I decide who I am in the world? How much should I listen to others? When do their exhortations have value, and when are they simply demanding I become who they want me to be…not who I am?
When I can fight off the voice of insecurity—listen instead to that voice that loves me—I can hear what is true. If I listen carefully to my heart, I can avoid being swayed by the insecurities of others that want me to be something other because who I am scares, intimidates them, or simply confuses them.
When we listen with love for self, the community names our gifts. Too often we take our gifts for granted since they seem easy, obvious and readily available to everyone. It is only by seeing who we are reflected in others that we come to know who we truly are in this world. There is a time to listen to those who love us and care about us when they say “This I see in you.” Then we simply need to accept it with love and humility.
So as I reflect on the “critique” I received that morning a few weeks ago, I choose to listen to the voice that honors my ability to see the depth of the world. I choose to be grateful for those moments when I can ask others to see in a very different way and ask “Is it possible the world really is that way?” They may not know how to turn that new thinking into concrete action in the very next moment, but when people begin to think differently, it is simply impossible to continue to act from the old paradigm.
I am thankful for the moments I have been granted to think about who I am in the world, and yes…to sooth my fragile ego. I am in a search, in my own simple way, for the meaning of life…or at least the meaning of my life. If I give up the deep search for meaning, it feels, as Dee Hock once said, like something in me will die.